CITES CoP16 Blog

Statement from Bryan Arroyo, Head of the U.S. delegation, on sharks and manta rays

March 14, 2013

Bryan Arroyo, Head of the U.S. delegation to CITES CoP16, had the following statement after decisions to list several species of sharks and manta rays in CITES Appendix II were finalized. The CITES Parties  adopted proposals to list oceanic whitetip sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks –  scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, and smooth hammerhead; porbeagle sharks; and manta rays.

“The 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES will be remembered as a historic moment in shark and ray conservation.  The decline of these commercially-exploited species is a global challenge that must be met with global solutions.  At this meeting, the CITES Parties have taken decisive action to protect these vulnerable species from over-exploitation for international trade and help to maintain sustainable fishery resources.

The strength of these proposals and the reasons for their adoption are two-fold.  The shark and manta ray species adopted for listing in Appendix II have shown severe declines in their populations. The science that justifies the need for these proposals is indisputable. Secondly, these proposals received widespread support from countries, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations across the globe.  The leadership of the proponent countries—Brazil, Colombia, the European Union, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, Comoros, Egypt, and the United States—and the strong support from other CITES Parties, particularly countries in West Africa, including Senegal and Sierra Leone, gave these proposals the political will that was needed to get them over the finish line.”

oceanic whitetip shark copyright Brian Skerry

Oceanic whitetip shark © Brian Skerry

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The US Delegation: A view from outside the inner circle

March 9, 2013

Curtis I. Taylor, a 34-year veteran of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WV DNR), discusses his experience as a U.S. delegate to CITES CoP16.  Curtis is the Chief of Wildlife Resources at WV DNR, a Past President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and Chair of its International Relations Committee. He also served on the U.S. Delegation to CITES at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Doha, Qatar.

First, let me say what an honor and a privilege it is to serve on the U.S. Delegation to CITES.  As a Director of a state fish and wildlife agency, the ability to be engaged at an international level brings a new understanding of wildlife management policies and procedures.  The fact that I’m at this CoP in Bangkok, Thailand, is testimony to the value that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) places on the partnership it has fostered with state and provincial wildlife agencies. 

The Service clearly recognizes that many CITES decisions directly impact regulations and policies promulgated at the state or provincial level.  To ensure the success of CITES, it is imperative that the visions agreed upon at this Conference of the Parties be grounded in the ability to transfer these visions to the everyday workings of wildlife conservation. Without the involvement of those that are charged with the on-the-ground implementation of fish and wildlife conservation, decisions made here are merely feel good endeavors placed on a piece of paper. The Regional state/provincial agency association representatives in attendance at the CoP also work closely with the U.S. Delegation. Indeed, proposals brought forth at this Convention may not be adopted based on arguments that the capacity to implement the various proposals is not sufficient and international trade will continue to impact the conservation of endangered species.

Bobcat sitting in tree
Bobcats, a native furbearer species, are listed in CITES Appendix II. The U.S. FIsh & Wildlife Service works closely with state agencies to manage trade in bobcats.

To include those entities charged with the conservation of all fish and wildlife in the CITES process is a wise and prudent move by the USFWS.  Director Dan Ashe and his staff work tirelessly to make sure state fish and wildlife agencies are fully aware of the intense workings of the CITES process so we can provide guidance on how or if certain proposals can be transferred to the field or if they are even practical.  I am appreciative of the opportunity afforded by the Service and can attest to the dedication demonstrated by the USFWS to this unique partnership between the federal and state wildlife agencies.

To learn more about the Service’s work with state agencies, please refer to the recently published Fish & Wildlife News article “Partnering to Conserve Native Species”.

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Polar bears lose at CITES

March 7, 2013

The halls and rooms of the Queen Sirikit Convention Center were filled with polar bear stuffed animals, pins, and posters on Wednesday morning—a telltale sign of the upcoming vote.  Delegates settled into their seats and quickly agreed by consensus on the first two proposals considered by Committee I. Bryan Arroyo, alternate head of the U.S. delegation, introduced the U.S. proposal to uplist polar bears to CITES Appendix I, outlining the pressures that an increasingly lucrative commercial trade was placing on a species projected to decline by 2/3 over the next three generations.

Pictured from left to right: Head of the U.S. delegation, Dan Ashe; a polar bear mascot; Alternate Head of the U.S. delegation, Bryan Arroyo

Russia, Comoros, India, Liberia, Niger, Senegal, and Ukraine announced their strong support for the U.S. proposal while Denmark, speaking on behalf of Greenland, Canada, Iceland, Japan and South Africa voiced their opposition.
The European Union (EU) presented an amendment to the U.S. proposal that would have maintained polar bears in Appendix II with an annotation requiring range states to set export quotas at sustainable levels.  The United States asserted that this amendment would essentially maintain the status quo and would not curb the unsustainable commercial trade in polar bear parts and products.

The Rules of Procedure require that less restrictive proposals be considered first. In the case of the polar bear, this meant that the EU amendment would need to be voted on before the U.S. proposal could be considered.  The amendment required a 2/3 majority vote for adoption. It was rejected by a vote of 63 yes, 43 no, and 17 abstentions.

After significant discussions, the U.S. proposal was put to a vote and sadly, defeated. The final vote was 38 yes, 42 no, and 46 abstentions.  

The U.S. delegation and a number of partner organizations worked tirelessly to gain support for the polar bear proposal. Though the proposal didn’t pass, this meeting has provided a unique opportunity for range states, non-governmental organizations, and indigenous people to discuss future opportunities to work together for the conservation of polar bears.

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Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

March 4, 2013

As this is my first CITES meeting, I knew that I would have much to learn and observe.  One thing became apparent early on. In order to fully understand the proceedings of a meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP), you must first understand the vocabulary of a CoP.  Consider this blog entry as your guide.

Following the grandeur of the opening ceremonies, delegates took a break for lunch before reconvening for the first Plenary session. In Plenary sessions, final decisions can be made. In contrast, the majority of the two weeks of the CoP will be spent in Committee meetings. Committees make recommendations that are then considered in the Plenary session. Proposals, resolutions, and decisions that are agreed in Committee meetings are not final until approved in the Plenary.

There are two Committees, aptly named, Committee I and Committee II. Committee I deals with the species proposals (e.g. transferring polar bears from Appendix II to Appendix I, listing oceanic whitetip sharks in Appendix II) and other scientific issues. Committee II deals with the implementation of CITES (e.g. streamlining permit requirements for musicians, ensuring that national laws effectively enforce CITES).  

Roddy Gabel, Chair of Committee II at CoP16

Roddy Gabel, Chief of the Division of Management Authority at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was nominated as Chair of Committee II. This decision was agreed by consensus.

The CoP begins with a Plenary session to address administrative matters that will enable the Parties to work efficiently during the two-week meeting.  The Parties must adopt the meeting agenda, appoint chairs of the Committees, and agree on the Rules of Procedure.  The Rules of Procedure outline how the meetings will operate—how votes will be taken, how motions can be made, etc. On the surface, the adoption of the Rules of Procedures would seem to be a straightforward issue, something that could be decided without much debate. But, that’s not always the case.  We’re entering Day 3 of the meeting and the updated Rules of Procedure have yet to be adopted.

The reason, in part, that the Rules of Procedure have not yet been adopted is because the Parties first wanted to hear from the Credentials Committee. The Credentials Committee ensures that delegates speaking on the behalf of a Party have been given the proper authority to do so.  This Committee is integral to the proceedings of a CoP because it helps to determine the number of Parties that are needed for a vote to pass – Parties that have not provided credentials from their government authorizing them to speak can’t vote. Issues only need to go to a vote if Parties voice opposition to the proposal or resolution. If there is no opposition, then decisions are agreed by consensus.

With 150 governments registered for CoP16, it can be difficult to move issues forward, especially if there is disagreement. This is where the Bureau steps in. The Bureau comprises the Chair, the Alternate Chair and the Vice-Chairs of the CoP, the Chairs of Committees I and II, the Chair of the Credentials Committee, the Chair and the other members of the Standing Committee, and the Secretariat. The Bureau ensures that the Rules of Procedure are followed and that business moves forward through the agenda.

Here’s how things have gone for CoP16 so far: the Parties met in a Plenary session on Sunday afternoon, at which time there was significant debate on the Rules of Procedure. It was obvious that a decision would not be agreed by consensus. The Chair of the CoP postponed a vote on the matter until such time that the Credentials Committee would have a chance to meet. On Monday afternoon, Committee I and Committee II met to discuss their respective agenda items.
At the close of Monday’s session, it was still unclear how a decision would be reached on the Rules of Procedure. The Bureau stepped in and recommended that the Parties would go back into Plenary on Tuesday morning.

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Opening Day

March 3, 2013


The 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES was officially opened today by the Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra. Over the next two weeks, some 2,000 delegates representing over 150 governments, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations and industry organizations are expected to participate in discussions regarding implementation of the treaty and the species that it protects.

CoP16 Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremonies of CITES CoP16

Today’s opening ceremonies corresponded with the 40th Anniversary of CITES-- drawing significant fanfare and high-level government engagement.  Video remarks from Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, kicked off the event followed by statements from the CITES Standing Committee Chair, Øystein Størkersen;  UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner; CITES Secretary- General, John Scanlon; and Prime Minister Shinawatra.  Several of today’s speakers urged CITES Parties to reach agreement on the listing of marine species and strengthen implementation for timber species—two priority issues for the United States.

Prince William delivers opening remarks at CoP16

Prince William addresses the Conference of the Parties

The United States didn’t waste any time in working to gain support for its priority issues. Before the opening ceremonies commenced, the United States participated in a press conference with other proponent countries of the shark and manta ray proposals, including the European Union (EU), Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Honduras.  This provided a unique opportunity to highlight the widespread support for these proposals and draw attention to the threats facing these marine species. The current working program has shark and manta ray proposals scheduled for discussion on Tuesday, March 5th.

Heads of delegation from marine species proponent countries

Heads of delegation unite in support of shark and manta ray proposals at CITES CoP16. From left to right: Feargal O'Coigligh- EU, Dan Ashe- U.S., Elsa Nickel- Germany, Paulino Franco De Carvalho Neto- Brazil, Claudia Vasquez- Colombia

The afternoon plenary session largely focused on the issue of secret ballots. As expected, the Parties are quite divided on this issue. Currently, votes are taken by secret ballot if proposed by one country and seconded by just ten others.  Japan and China spoke strongly in favor of maintaining this process for secret ballots.  The EU introduced a document that would require a simple majority of the Parties for a secret ballot vote. Chile and Mexico introduced a document that would require 1/3 of the Parties to call for a secret ballot.  

The United States, India, and Colombia, among others, voiced support for the EU proposal; though most indicated that they would support the Chile/Mexico proposal if the EU proposal was not adopted.  Since it was obvious that consensus would not be reached, a vote on this issue was delayed until after the Credentials Committee would have the opportunity to meet. The Credentials Committee ensures that Representatives of a Party have been given the proper authority to represent the Party at a meeting.   There will certainly be more to come on this issue…

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